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The Man Who Tried to Save the World: The Dangerous Life and Mysterious Disappearance of an American Hero Paperback – May 16, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Fred Cuny, a fearless and hugely ambitious Texan, was nicknamed "Master of Disaster" for his handling of relief projects worldwide. He stood out in a bureaucratic world with his unorthodox methods and obvious success. In 1995, during a visit to a mountain border town in Chechnya that was under heavy Russian bombardment, Fred Cuny disappeared.

Renowned war correspondent Scott Anderson became so involved in uncovering Cuny's fate that he risked his life several times in Chechnya. He describes a larger-than-life character who could have come straight from a Le Carré novel--a flawed hero who habitually lied about his past but to whom hundreds of thousands of disaster victims owed their lives. All wars are cruel, but Anderson succeeds in convincing us that the random savagery shown by the combatants in Chechnya made its terror unique. Against the background of a ruined country, he interviews Chechen rebels and traitors, Russian generals and pathetically young conscripts, and shadowy operatives who steered Cuny toward danger. Lies and changing stories make the mystery of what happened to Cuny ever more impenetrable, yet Anderson continues his stubborn detective work. With writing that has the fluidity and psychological insight shown by the author of the novel Triage, Anderson brings to this book a passion not usually found in journalism and makes it literature. --John Stevenson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Not even Anderson's intrepid reporting and formidable storytelling skills can bring clarity to the case of Fred Cuny, the legendary relief worker who disappeared in Chechnya in 1995. This is the fault of circumstances rather than of the author, a veteran reporter and novelist (Triage). Known as the Master of Disaster, Cuny was a charismatic Texan who made a career out of bringing relief to civilians displaced by war, winning a reputation for cutting through the bureaucratic tangles of larger relief organizations and governments. Anderson seeks to shed light on two enigmas: the character of Fred Cuny, and the mystery of his disappearance. On the first score, Anderson succumbs to some facile psychologizing; on the second, he does much better, portraying the "snake pit" that was Chechnya, a place where arms smuggling, drug trafficking and graft obscured the lines of battle so completely that it was frequently impossible to determine who was fighting whom at any given moment. Cuny, who had seen his share of battle zones, called it "the scariest place I have ever been." The skill with which Anderson leads readers through a maze of lies and half truths advanced by Russian intelligence, Chechen rebels and others makes readers believe that Chechnya is impenetrable. So, by the book's end, when Anderson advances his own theory about Cuny's disappearance (that he was killed on orders of Chechen president Dzhokar Dudayev, who feared Cuny knew too much about whether or not Dudayev had leftover Soviet nuclear weapons), readers will be hard-pressed to judge whether it's more plausible than any of the conspiracy theories that precede it. And yet, confronted with a Gordian knot of facts and a succession of unreliable sources, Anderson does an admirable job of searching for the truth in a land that truth forgot. Major ad/promo; first serial to Men's Journal; film rights to Monkey Productions (a Disney Company); author tour.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 402 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; First Trade Edition edition (May 16, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385486669
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385486668
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #618,360 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on September 16, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I first heard Fred Cuny being interviewed on NPR in 1995 about the Chechen war. I was surprised how vivid an impression he made on me based on a short radio interview, his charisma and intelligence came right through. I was very pleased to see Mr. Anderson's book on Cuny's life and tragic disappearance. The book is extremely well researched and written. It paints a picture of man who in a time of manufactured heroes was an authentic, larger than life personality who cared deeply for others and helped save thousands of lives. Mr. Anderson does a fine job of showing us a very complex man who suffered from contradictions, self-doubt and emotional need and who lived his life on an ambitiously epic scale. Besides being an excellent biography, the book also does a fine job of outlining some of the complex forces driving and sustaining the Chechen conflict. Reading the book, you can feel the confusion and frustration experienced by both Fred Cuny and the author as they dig deeper into a brutal, often thoughtless war that Westerners may simply not be equipped to understand. The story of Mr. Anderson's journey to Chechnya to research Cuny's case reads like an espionage thriller. An interesting facet of the book for me were passages near the end when Mr. Anderson would repeat and revise scenarios he had constructed in previous chapters concerning the events surrounding Cuny's last mission. You can almost feel his anger and utter frustration as he attempts to navigate and make sense of the circular and conflicting knot of theories, lies, half-truths, misinformation, omissions, and myths surrounding the events of Cuny's final days. This is a book that succeeds on multiple levels. Highly recommended.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By jim_stockmoe@msn.com on June 7, 1999
Format: Hardcover
When I arrived in Bosnia in December of 1993, I was stunned to find a lumbering Texan wearing an Aggie sweatshirt in the middle of the wartorn hell that was Sarajevo. Fred and I soon discovered we were both from the same university - Texas A&M. More coincidentally, we both served in the same outfit in the Corps of Cadets - Animal-A; he in 1968, and I in 1984. Fred was the most selfless and heroic man I have known. His personal efforts at INTERTEC to restore drinking water to the city of Sarajevo in itself speaks volumes about this big hearted man. The water purification plant was an engineering marvel -- flown into Sarajevo aboard U.S. Air Force C130 aircraft and installed in record time under cover of the tunnel overlooking the Miljaska River in Stari Grad (Old City), Sarajevo. Fred endured sniper bullets and freezing weather to oversee the monumental effort. More importantly, he dove headlong into many other ambitious projects to release the Serb stranglehold on the largely innocents of Sarajevo. Fred was being considered for a high level post in the Department of State when he tragically went missing in Chechnya. I was stunned to come across this book, and am glad there is a written legacy of this larger than life Texan. Fred's son Craig may be justifiably proud of his brave and optimistic father. Next to the Memorial Student Center at Texas A&M University is a passage from John (15-13) - "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Among all those whose lives Fred touched, there are many friends. Personally, I treasure the photographs of Fred and the insightful memories he left with me. For those who have sought to understand the world's madness and instability, what the military calls Stability and Support Operations, Scott Anderson has hit a home run. An absolutely first class book.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By M. A. Brown on August 30, 2003
Format: Paperback
The book reads like a thunderclap. It starts quickly and picks up pace, holding the reader's fascination the entire time. Anderseon summarizes the humanitarian aid community and the situation in Russia well. (Full disclosure: this reviewer is an expatriate in Russia working with refugees.)
The errors in the book are therefore almost unforgiveable. It's simply incredible that someone who supposedly did so much research made such fundamental mistakes as:
1. Referring to the newly constructed Embassy--the one with all the bugs--as "miles" from the older Embassy where he was speaking with the Ambassador. The two buildings are separated by about three hundred meters, and are visible to each other.
2. Referring to a "two-million" dollar ransom for Cuny on one page, and eleven pages later referring to the individual who made it as the man who demanded "three million" dollars.
There are other errors as well, all of them inconsequential to the flow of the story and its overall conclusions. I must admit, however, that it left me wondering what other facts did he get wrong that I did not know about.
A final quibble is that Anderson presents Cuny's positive achievements as simple facts. There is no doubt that Cuny achieved much during his life, and he did a lot of good, but he and his approach to humanitarian aid were (and still are) much more controversial than the author indicates. The people Anderson blithely dismisses as angry at Cuny's accusations of ineptitude should have been given a greater say on how -they- felt about -him-. This is minor, however, and simply means the reader should be aware that the author has a bias, which is neither surprising nor unexpected.
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